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Coup d'état

A coup d’état (AHD: [ko͞o"dā tä]), often simply called a coup, is the sudden overthrow of a government by a part of the state establishment — usually the military — to replace the branch of the stricken government, either with another civil government or with a military government.

The coup d’état succeeds if its opponents fail to thwart the usurpers, allowing them to consolidate their positions, obtain the surrender of the overthrown government or acquiescence of the populace and the surviving armed forces, and thus claim legitimacy. Coups d’état typically use the power of the existing government for the takeover. As Edward Luttwak remarks in Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook: A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder. In this sense, the use of either military or another organized force is not the defining feature of a coup d'état.

Since the unsuccessful coups d’état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 (the Kapp Putsch), and of Adolf Hitler in 1923 (the Beer Hall Putsch), the Swiss German word "Putsch" (originally coined with the Züriputsch of 1839) is often used also, even in French (such as the putsch of 8 November 1942 and the putsch of April 21, 1961, both in Algiers) and Soviet Union (August Putsch in 1991), while the direct German translation is Staatsstreich.

Usage

Politically, the coup d’état is a type of political engineering, generally violent (hence "strike", "blow"; French "coup"), but not always, yet differing from a revolution (by a larger, armed group to effect violent, radical change to the political system) in that the change is to the government, not the form of government.

Linguistically, coup d’état is French for “a stroke of state” (coup [blow], d’ [of] état, [state]). Analogously, the term also is casually used to mean gaining advantage on a rival, either by a group or a person, e.g. an intelligence coup, boardroom coup.

Tactically, a coup d’état usually involves control by an active portion of the country's military, while neutralizing the remainder of the armed services' possible counteraction. The acting group either captures or expels the political and military leaders, seizes physical control of the most important government offices, means of communication, and the physical infrastructure, such as key streets and electric power plants.

Etymology

Although the coup d'état has been used in politics since antiquity, the expression itself is relatively new. Per the Oxford Dictionary, in 1646, Howell first used coup d'État in his book Louis XIII: Life of Richelieu. It was first used in England, in 1811, by Thompson, referring to Napoleon Bonaparte's overthrowing of the Revolutionary Directory in 1799.

According to Professor Thomas Childers of the University of Pennsylvania, the lack of an English word to denote a sudden, unconstitutional change of government derives from England's political institutions. Although the histories of France and Germany are coloured with such political actions, England's history is not. The last coup d’état in England was the Glorious Revolution in 1688, in which a parliamentarian group headed by William of Orange overthrew James II, the last Roman Catholic monarch, to establish a modern parliamentary democracy. In England, this is a rare political occurrence, hence there has been no need to coin a descriptive word.

The Pronunciamiento

The Pronunciamiento is the Spanish and Hispano American analogue of the military coup d’état although "golpe de estado" is a more used expression. Pronunciamiento (pronouncement in English), refers to the installation, explanation, and justification of the effected coup d’état. Edward Luttwak, explains that the difference between a pronunciamiento and a coup d'état is that in the latter, a military faction overthrows the civilian government, whereas a pronunciamiento is the overthrowing of civilian government by official action of the command structure (the chiefs of staff) of its military forces.

In recent years, the military coup d’état has declined worldwide as a means of changing government. The usual military intervention in civil government, regarded as a coup d'état, uses the threat of military force to depose a politically vulnerable or an unpopular leader. In contrast to a traditional coup d'état, the military do not directly assume power, but install a militarily-acceptable civilian leader. The advantage is the appearance of legitimacy; classic examples are the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, and the bloodless coup d'état effected on 3 August 2005, in Mauritania while the president was in Saudi Arabia.

There have been examples of the potential for mass street protests to persuade the military to withdraw its support of unpopular leaders, sometimes leading the opposition to take power in a coup d’état fashion. In such situations, such as in Serbia (2000), Argentina (2001), the Philippines (1986 and 2001), Bolivia (2003), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004-2005), Lebanon, Ecuador (2005), and Bolivia (2005), popular uprisings forced the incumbent president or leader to resign so that a new leader might assume power. This often results in economic stability and political calm, in which an unknown and uncontroversial interim leader can govern until proper elections are held. Generally, these changes of government are not described as coups d’état, because they are not orchestrated by a small group, but result from popular action. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 is such a change of government, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, because it sprang from popular opposition to the rule of the last Shah of Iran.

Types of coups d’état

A coup d’état also is classified by the rank of the military men leading the governmental overthrow. A Veto coup d’état or Guardian coup d’état is led by the army's top commanding officers (usually generals). Sometimes the commander-in-chief, or a few very top commanders are excluded, as being appointees of the regime and thus loyal to them. In a Breakthrough coup d’état the leaders are junior officers (colonels or below), or even non-commissioned officers (sergeants), and most of the army's senior officers are displaced too. When junior officers or enlisted men seize power in this way, the coup d’état also is a mutiny with grave implications for the organizational structure and professional integrity of the military.

A bloodless coup d’état is when the threat of violence is sufficient to depose the incumbent government with no fighting, and there are no subsequent executions of the deposed faction. However, a "bloodless coup d’état" is not always truly non-violent. Napoleon's 18 Brumaire coup d’état is considered an exemplar "bloodless coup", but during the coup, legislators were forcibly ejected from their meeting place by soldiers. In 1889, Brazil became a republic via a bloodless coup. In 1999, Pervez Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan via a bloodless coup, and, in 2006, Sonthi Boonyaratglin assumed power in Thailand as the leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy.

The term self-coup applies when the incumbent government — aided and abetted by the military — assumes extraordinary powers not allowed by law. The historical example is President, and later French Emperor, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. A modern example is Alberto Fujimori in Peru, who, though elected, in 1992 assumed control of legislative and the judicial branches of government, installing himself as an authoritarian ruler. The assumption of "emergency powers" by King Gyanendra of Nepal was a self-coup.

Besides Luttwak's non-military coup d’état, Samuel P. Huntington identifies three classes of coup d’état:

  • Breakthrough coup d’état: a revolutionary army overthrows a traditional government and creates a new bureaucratic élite. Generally led by non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or junior officers and happen once. Examples are China in 1911, Bulgaria in 1944, Egypt in 1952, Greece in 1967, Libya in 1969 and Liberia in 1980.
  • Guardian coup d’état: the "musical chairs" coup d’état. The stated aim of which is improving public order, efficiency, and ending corruption. There usually is no fundamental change to the power structure. Generally, the leaders portray their actions as a temporary and unfortunate necessity. An early example is the coup d’état by Sulla, in 88 B.C., replacing the elected leader Marius in Rome. A contemporary instance is the civilian Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's overthrow by Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, who cited widespread civil disorder and impending civil war as his justification. In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the same grounds. Nations with guardian coups can frequently shift back and forth between civilian and military governments. Example countries include Pakistan, Turkey, and Thailand. A “bloodless coup” usually arises from the Guardian coup d’état.
  • Veto coup d’état: occurs when the army vetoes the people's mass participation and social mobilisation in governing themselves. In such a case, the army confronts and suppresses large-scale, broad-based civil opposition, tending to fascist repression and killing, the prime example is the coup d’état in Chile in 1973 against the elected Socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens by the Chilean military, aided by the CIA.

Post-military-coup governments

After the coup d’état, the military face the matter of what type of government to establish. In Latin America, it was common for the post-coup government to be led by a junta, a committee of the chiefs of staff of the armed forces. A common form of African post-coup government is the revolutionary assembly, a quasi-legislative body elected by the army. In Pakistan, the military leader typically assumes the title of chief martial law administrator.

According to Huntington, most leaders of a coup d’état act under the concept of right orders: they believe that the best resolution of the country's problems is merely to issue correct orders. This view of government underestimates the difficulty of implementing government policy, and the degree of political resistance to certain correct orders. It presupposes that everyone who matters in the country shares a single, common interest, and that the only question is how to pursue that single, common interest.

Incumbent leaders of regimes who assumed power via a coup d’état

Name Country In power since
Muammar al-Gaddafi Libya 1969
Qaboos of Oman Oman 1970
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Equatorial Guinea 1979
Lansana Conté Guinea 1984
Blaise Compaoré Burkina Faso 1987
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Tunisia 1987
Than Shwe Burma 1988
Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir Sudan 1989
Yahya Jammeh* The Gambia 1994
Hamad bin Khalifa Qatar 1995
François Bozizé* Central African Republic 2003
Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama Fiji 2006
Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz Mauritania 2008

*Both Jammeh and Bozizé were subsequently confirmed in office by apparently free and fair elections. The election confirming Jammeh was marked by repression of the free press and the opposition. An opposition leader described the outcome as a "sham".

See also

Notes

References

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